Tube System Saves Time and Money

May 1, 2001
Texas Instruments uses a pneumatic tube conveying system to transport 80 percent of the parts used in the semiconductor manufacturing operation, paying for itself in just 13 months. Cost-Cutting Ideas

Tube System Saves Time and Money

Texas Instruments Inc. (TI), a global semiconductor company and a designer and supplier of digital signal processing and analog technologies, has its primary wafer fabrication facilities located in an expansive manufacturing site in north Dallas, Texas. With large distances separating stores and production areas, TI faced the challenge of reducing transport time and labor necessary for a highly efficient manufacturing facility. It needed to deliver critical production equipment parts quickly to point-of-use areas throughout its semi-conductor production facilities.

TI had been using manual labor to move parts. Multiple stores were strategically located to minimize walking distances and delivery times. "It was simply not practical to use manual labor," said Joe Overman, manager of TI’s Dallas North Campus Inventory Operations. Staffing had to be maintained 24 hours per day to respond to parts delivery needs. Even with substantial staffing, the time to repair production equipment was viewed as a constant area for improvement. The parts delivery problem was compounded by the need for another stores area to accommodate continued facility expansion.

TI needed an automated solution that would quickly deliver parts over long distances between stores and many point-of-use areas within a multiple-building campus. It also needed a system to transport delicate items, such as printed circuit boards and lamps, as well as heavy items weighing up to 20 pounds, across distances up to 1,500 feet. Valves, relays, electronic components and microscope film are transported as well.

The solution TI chose was a computerized pneumatic tube system. "Other automated solutions would not have been as effective because of the need to transport parts between buildings," said Bob Waski, sales consultant for Swisslog Translogic, a manufacturer of pneumatic tube systems.

"Pneumatic tube systems can be applied effectively with favorable returns for these kinds of industrial applications where fast parts delivery equates to increased equipment uptime," said Jeff Barber, Swisslog Translogic’s industrial sales consultant. "Reducing inventories and labor requirements also contributes significantly to lowering production costs."

The 8-inch-diameter tube system has the capacity to transport roughly 80 percent of parts issued throughout the complex. More than 8,100 feet of piping and 450 feet of air control pipe were installed.

"The system paid for itself in only 13 months," Overman said. He added that parts delivery cycle times were reduced from 20 minutes to less than six minutes.

Thirteen send-and-receive stations are located in storerooms and clean rooms. Galvanized steel tubing was installed indoors in overhead ceiling space and outdoors on existing pipe racks, which were ideally suited for a smooth installation of the system.

Tube system users insert items into individual carriers that are dispatched by keypad entry. The carriers are transported by pneumatics, which can safely handle delicate items at speeds up to 25 feet per second.

Another challenge was the need to install a system that could handle tube intake and exhaust airflow in cleanroom pass-through areas. "The pneumatic tube system has worked well in the particle-free cleanroom environment," Overman said. Send-and-receive stations deliver parts to point-of-use zones accessible to smoked clean- room technicians, saving dress-out time for hundreds of daily deliveries.

TI was able to consolidate stores, eliminate redundant stores’ staffing and inventories, and improve parts delivery times and reduce manual transport efforts. Overman estimates that the pneumatic tube system reduced manual delivery efforts and redundant stores staffing by the equivalent of 23 full-time positions.

Pneumatic tube system by Swisslog Translogic.

Easy Mover Makes It a One-Person Job

Genie Industries, manufacturer of self-propelled booms, saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment costs when it chose to purchase Easy Mover machines for it small boom facility. Adopting Easy Movers also enabled Genie to increase worker productivity, prevent injuries and streamline its manufacturing system.

Brian Moriarty, senior manufacturing engineer at Genie, first bought Easy Movers after seeing employees there manually pushing the heavy boom lifts (as they were being assembled) between manufacturing stations.

He explains, "My job is to help make the assembly operation safe. I had to do something right away. Using Easy Movers has prevented employees from injuring themselves when pushing large heavy loads."

Typical injuries at other companies where employees perform similar heavy manufacturing work include hurt legs, backs and shoulders. From a financial savings standpoint, companies avoiding injuries reduce the chances of related absenteeism, production downtime and workers’ compensation expenses. Most importantly, injuries can potentially lead to human suffering and disability.

Before using Easy Movers, employees at Genie built each boom lift on a manual assembly line. At each new station they physically added more components or a counterweight (essential in counterbalancing these products that can lift people up to 34 feet in the air). Employees would then be pulled off their regular assignments to help others move the product from one station to the next.

Moriarty initially considered spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase a conveyor system. Instead, he chose to buy a few models of Easy Movers. They provide a similar function of moving heavy objects, yet are priced starting under $3,000.

Today, only one Genie employee is needed at each station to safely move a boom lift to the next station. This is possible thanks to one of Genie’s 12 Easy Movers. Their models (V350A, ARL500, and V1250A) generate the following applied force in pounds respectively: 660, 1,100 and 2,640.

As an investment for the future, Easy Movers can save Genie time and money when needs change or other situations arise.

"Easy Mover adds an amazing amount of flexibility," comments Moriarty. "Genie marks each station on the smooth painted floor. We can change assembly layouts without changing machinery or the facility.

"We have never had a line stop issue on our assembly line due to a conveyance breakdown," Moriarty continues. "If in the future an Easy Mover will ever need to be serviced, we can put another one in its place in a matter of seconds. That way the line will continue moving without skipping a beat."

How did management and employees respond to Easy Mover?

Tom Bligh, Genie’s vice president of marketing and customer relations, says Easy Movers correspond with his company’s values, as "Genie is a safety-oriented, team-oriented company."

Moriarty explains, "Employees loved the Easy Mover from day one. We can always count on this quality product to work properly. Plus it’s safe and easy to use."

Easy Mover one-person-operated material handling pushers and rollers from Revolving Technologies Inc.

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